Overindulgence, Inner Power, Divine Knowledge
Issue 503 » November 14, 2008 - Dhul-Qida 16, 1429
Al-Ahqaf (Sand Dunes)
Chapter 46: Verse 20 (partial)
"The unbelievers shall one day be brought before the fire of hell and be told, 'You have squandered away the good things in your worldly life and enjoyed them to the full and today you shall be rewarded with ignominious punishment...'"
It is reported by Ibn Atiyyah that this verse had left a strong impression on Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph. As the head of an expanding Muslim state Umar was a model of simplicity and austerity. On entering Syria with the victorious Muslim army, he was greeted by the leader of the expedition, Khalid ibn al-Walid, who offered him a sumptuous meal. His immediate response was: "If this is what we eat, what about the destitute Muslims who died without having had their fill of barley bread?"
Khalid replied: "They shall have Paradise!" Umar, it was said, broke down crying, saying that in that case the poor Muslims were the winners!
It is true to say that God does not forbid the enjoyment of the good and lawful things, but seeking luxury and affluence could lead to a life of extravagance and overindulgence resulting in preoccupation with one's pleasures and desires and negligence of one's duties and responsibilities.
"A Thematic Commentary on The Quran" - Muhammad al-Ghazali, pp. 559, 560
The Inner Power
Intention is the first step in the rational method of developing our innate power of free will, because it is intimately related to our freedom of choice and action and as such forms the very basis of our accountability. Intention is an inner power that abhors imposition of any limitation on its freedom.
One's intention is an integral part of one's life and no other man, however powerful, has any power whatsoever over another person's intention. The last resort of a Muslim when he is overwhelmed by difficulties is to save himself from the displeasure of Allah, the Exalted, by submitting his every intention to Allah.
In a sound hadith we read that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "Whoever among you sees an evil should try to change it with his hands. If he is not able to do so, then with his tongue, and if he is unable to do even that, then with his heart, and this is the weakest form of faith." [Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Majah]
By understanding and following this psychological or inner mode of behaviour, a Muslim is able to achieve two things. He can:
1) Hold fast to the strong unbreakable rope of Allah, and
2) Preserve his freedom of choice and abide by his cherished beliefs.
"Freedom and Responsibility in Quranic Perspective" - Hasan Al-Anani, pp, 170, 171
Waters of Divine Knowledge
What is the origin or source of a sense of "universal goodness" or "universal truth" in an individual? If it is true that God created human beings with an innate sense of right and wrong (fitra), it is also true that the Quran and the Sunna teach that this inner sense can be corrupted by persisting in sin, and that one can easily be led astray by one's selfish desires. It is for this reason that revelation is a theological necessity - to help guide us back to what is right. But how do we attain a true understanding of revelation if we are already emotionally and spiritually wounded people?
If we reflect upon the story of Hajar (wife of Abraham, peace be upon them) we find a way out of this dilemma. The spiritual matriarch of Islam shows us that we must first trust in God, and then struggle, using all means God has given us, to find the pure waters of Divine knowledge. Hajar found the holy water only because she was confident that God would provide for her, and then exerted all her energy and resources to find her provisions.
Thus, in the first place, we must use all the intellectual resources God has given us to attempt to understand the true meaning of the Quran. God gave Hajar two legs which she used to run back and forth between the mountains, and two eyes with which she looked for a source of water. God gave Muslims, individually and collectively, sight, hearing, and intellect to put at the service of studying the linguistic and historical context of the Quran. It is impossible for any one individual to master all these aspects of Quranic learning, even in a lifetime of study. A serious effort to understand the Quran, therefore, necessarily includes a deep engagement with the extensive scholarly tradition of Islam.
The second necessary condition for understanding revelation is the proper intention - to sincerely wish to be guided by God. This does not mean that non-Muslims and even atheists cannot contribute to the factual body of knowledge useful to contextualizing the Quran; but you cannot attain what you do not set out to find. The meaning of the revelation can only be accessed by those who believe that ultimate meaning is beyond the limited understanding of any human being and who sincerely turn to the Quran for the purpose of finding that meaning. However, attaining the state of humility that is characteristic of a sincere intention is not easy. How many individuals are confident of the purity of their intentions and the soundness of their hearts, yet clearly are deceiving themselves?
"The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life" - Ingrid Mattson, pp. 229-231